p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, April 30, 2023 | Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2: 14.36-41; 1Pt 2: 20b-25; Jn 10: 1-10.
In the summer of 2022, Pope Francis began a series of general audiences in the form of catecheses dedicated to Discernment. It seems appropriate to recall this, because when we speak of the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of Christ, we must at the same time speak of other voices that compete with the divine voice and it is necessary to know how to distinguish between them so as not to make mistakes.
A voice communicates and transmits feelings and truths in a special way; perhaps that is why we are moved, sometimes deeply, when we listen to a song interpreted by a good voice.
It is also important that we try to understand why Jesus speaks of the voice. On other occasions, for example in his message of the Beatitudes, he refers to “seeing God”. We can also speak of “touching God”, as in Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel, representing the creation of Adam. In the Gospel, we read of a woman who as soon as she came up behind Jesus and barely touched his clothes, her bleeding stopped (Lk 8: 44). Or we speak of the touch of grace, the charismatic touch. So touch, sight and hearing are important images to understand our relationship with the divine persons.
But today we are invited to pay attention to the voice of the Good Shepherd, surely because the voice, the call, indicates to us something essential in discernment: where we must go, what is the appropriate path in each moment of our life. The voice is capable of touching our intelligence, our will and, finally, our ability to make a decision and thus act with all our strength in that direction. That is why the appropriate metaphor is the voice of the shepherd.
Some people think that a docile sheep is an inappropriate metaphor to represent us, human beings, proud of our knowledge and ability to choose freely. However, this idea obeys precisely… a poor and limited concept of what freedom is. In fact, this individualistic and rather materialistic concept of freedom that many people talk about resembles what the neurotic sheep (yes, you read that right) in Liddell’s experiments did when subjected to excitations and inhibitions, which led them to strange behaviors:
The animal exhibits diffuse agitation in the laboratory, with frequent and vivid startle reactions, labored breathing, and rapid irregular pulse. Even weeks or months after the tests have been discontinued the animal exhibits its perturbation in the barn at night…. The normal sheep’s heart beats slowly and regularly; by contrast, the neurotic sheep’s heart may be beating twice as fast with wide fluctuations of rate and with frequent premature beats…. The behavior of the neurotically ill individual, animal or man, is rigid, ineffectual, and unrealistic. It limits him in meeting his total life situation in its historical continuity (Liddell,1956).
While food and the flock instinct were significant drives, months of fruitless observation of inconsistent behavior led to the suspicion that sheep possessed their own hidden and individualistic “ambitions” (Kirk & Ramsden, 2018).
Perhaps these quotations will help us to understand that human beings, like sheep, need a good shepherd to free us from the conditioning of the outside world and our own individualistic and unnatural inclinations. Yes; it seems that the metaphor of the Good Shepherd is appropriate ….
But our inability to hear God’s voice is very serious and requires intense effort to overcome. In reality, this should not surprise us, for something similar happens to us with our neighbor.
Sometime after being president for a very long time, Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of artificially smiling and saying nice things in a forced way at all those White House receptions. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was really listening to anything he was saying. As each person came up to him and extended his hand, he would flash that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” People would automatically respond with comments like “How lovely!” or “Just continue your great work!”
Nobody listened to what he was actually saying, except for one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Many people insist that our culture and our modern societies have a lot of noise, many messages that reach us and prevent us from listening to God, but I am afraid that the greatest difficulty is in our own intimate voices, with which I try to convince and self-suggest, for example, that I am right in what I say, that I have urgent needs or that I must do something above all else.
Similarly, when we ask ourselves how God speaks to us, and how we are to recognize his voice, one of the greatest challenges for us is to be ready to hear that voice when it is uncomfortable and confronting.
On January 4, 2023, in his last catechesis on discernment, Pope Francis highlighted some essential characteristics of the divine voice:
The voice of the Lord can always be recognized; it has a unique style it is a voice that pacifies, encourages and reassures in difficulties. The Gospel reminds us of this continually: “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30), how beautiful is the Angel’s word to Mary! “Do not be afraid”, “Do not be afraid”, it is the style of the Lord, “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid!” the Lord repeats to us today too, “Do not be afraid”: if we trust in his word, we will play the game of life well, and we will be able to help others. As the Psalm says, his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (cf. 119, 105).
The voice, like a kiss, is something very intimate, from one person to another and is not confused with “a truth”, which may be beautiful, but it is not only for me. It is true that God’s voice is audible, but it can be said even more; God’s voice IS THE ONLY complete clarity I can receive. That is why in the mystical life we speak of a continuous Inspiration, of a persistent form of divine voice, of his message that reaches us through all things, through all events, and whose content is, above all, his will for me, now. In the Old Testament there are stories that express this fact beautifully and precisely, such as the call that Samuel felt and shared with his master Eli (1 Sam 3: 1-17).
God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks through creation, through his Word, through wise mentors in our lives. He speaks through life situations, opening and closing doors. He speaks by his Holy Spirit, equipping us with gifts and passions to use for service in his kingdom.
In time, we learn to listen for that voice in our hearts; it becomes easier to identify, and when we hear it clearly, it is easier to answer. God’s voice calls us to be who we are meant to be. It called Peter from his nets at the Sea of Galilee, Matthew from his tax collector’s booth, Bartimaeus from the roadside, Zacchaeus from the sycamore tree – and Mary Magdalene from whatever had kept her unfree. The good shepherd calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice (Jn 10:11-16).
A star is related to other stars not through words, but through the force of gravity. God does not need to speak to us with words, although He can also do so. He speaks with his works and with the secret action of the Holy Spirit in our soul, moving our heart, stirring our emotions and giving light to our intellect in order to draw us gently to Himself. It could happen that at first we may not even be aware of it. But with the passing of time He will help us to recognize his action in us. Perhaps He will have helped us to be more patient or more understanding, or to work better, or to give greater importance to friendship… In short, our love for God will grow ever stronger.
Jesus said to Mary Magdalen: Mariam. She turned and said to him in Hebrew: Raboni! (Jn 2: 16). The experience would have been unforgettable. She would surely have repeated those same words whenever she told the story to anyone who would listen, probably until the day she died. Only when Jesus speaks her name does Mary know him. At first, she couldn’t recognize him, but Mary knew that distinctive voice: the voice that called her to wholeness when it expelled whatever demons troubled her; the voice that welcomed her into his circle of friends; the voice that told her she was valued in God’s eyes; the voice that answered her or laughed over a meal; the voice that cried out in pain from the cross. Mary knew that voice because it was a voice that had spoken to her in love. Then she knew who it was. Sometimes seeing is not believing; loving is.
For Jesus anonymous masses do not exist. He takes interest in each of his disciples. He pays attention to the gifts, strengths, and weaknesses of each, but his attention go to the weakest of the herd: He carries the lambs in his bosom, gently leading those that are with young (Is 40:11). He understands their difficulties, does not force the issues nor impose unsustainable rhythms but evaluates the condition of each, helps and respects.
To distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd from other voices, especially those of our heart, which are amplified by the devil, Pope Francis recommends some attitudes, authentic and necessary virtues, among them: vigilance (Lk 12:35-37). Another is to remember the history of my personal relationship with God, reviewing how on previous occasions he has spoken to me. Finally, let us mention recognizing -before than confessing- how we really are, for “we all have the temptation to wear a mask, even in front of ourselves,” as the Pope said. One of the ways to learn about ourselves is to contemplate how we react to unexpected events that do not leave us time to put on a mask: interruptions, sudden or violent reactions from someone we know, health problems….
May today be a day when we decide to sharpen our ears, because we already know that Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it (Mt 13: 16-17).
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,